Pitting 8-Bit Chess Games Against Modern Foes

UltraChess is a vintage chess game for the 8-bit MSX platform, running on the Z80. [flok] wondered just how capable the game really was, and set forth to test it against a variety of other chess engines.

Having been designed in the 1980s, UltraChess is far from up-to-date as far as the chess software world is concerned. By using the OpenMSX emulator to run the game, [flok] was able to implement scripts to read and write the gamestate in UltraChess, and make it compatible with the Universal Chess Interface. This would allow UltraChess to be played off against a variety of other chess engines to determine its approximate ELO rating.

The scripts worked well, and are available on Github for those who wish to tinker further. Unfortunately, [flok] has thus far been unable to determine a rating for UltraChess, as it has lost every single game it has played against other chess engines. This is unsurprising given the limited processing power available, but we’d love to see a tweaked and hotrodded Z80 chess program take on the same challenge. If you’ve done such a thing, let us know, or alternatively  you might like to try playing like Harry Potter.

Easy DIY Gecko Tape

Geckos are amazing creatures, with the ability to walk on and stick to all manner of surfaces. If you’ve ever woken up to see lizards on your ceiling, you’re already familiar with their capabilities. The mechanisms behind this have been an area of much research in recent times, and [The Thought Emporium] decided to try and recreate the effect himself (Youtube video, embedded below).

The way geckos stick to surfaces is through the use of nano-scale hairs on their feet. These hairs dramatically increase the surface area of contact between the gecko and the surface in question. This allows the usually-small intermolecular forces to stack up and keep the gecko adhered.

Several teams have managed to create synthetic substances that recreate this ability; indeed we’ve featured some here before. In this case, experimentation started with an attempt to generate the requisite nanostructures by casting RTV silicone on a microporous filter. This was unsuccessful, with the hairs on the surface of the material created being too sparse and at random angles. The next stage involved attempting to use a tattoo gun, needles, and finally sharpened tungsten wires to pattern wax, which could then have silicone cast onto it to pick up the geometry. This too was unsuccessful, as it wasn’t possible to generate tiny enough features to generate the effect.

The final experiment involved casting silicone upon a 1000 line per millimeter diffraction grating. This generated tiny ridges on the surface of the silicone, and greatly improved its sticking ability. While the ridges generated aren’t as capable as gecko feet or professionally-produced films, they do have an impressive weight holding ability. A small section of the silicone was able to hold over 20 pounds for an extended period in testing.

It’s a great example of how to do seemingly complicated science with materials that can be easily acquired for the home workshop. We’d love to see just how strong a gecko tape could be produced with more work done on this method. Video after the break.

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Improving A Cheap Frequency Counter With GPS

Frequency counters are useful tools for anyone that finds themselves regularly working with time-variant signals. There are a huge range available, from cheap eBay specials to expensive lab-grade hardware. [itakeyourphoto] had a counter on the lower end of the cost spectrum, and decided to make some improvements with the help of GPS (Youtube link, embedded below).

The fundamental weakness of a cheap frequency counter is usually the internal reference against which all other signals are measured. The more accurate this is, the more accurate the counter will be. [itakeyourphoto] determined that a great way to generate a reasonably good reference frequency was by using a uBlox GPS module. Once locked on to satellites, it can use a numerically controlled oscillator to output any frequency up to 15MHz with good accuracy.

The cheap frequency counter in question used a 13 MHz internal reference, so the uBlox module was programmed to match this. [itakeyourphoto] reports that it compares favorably to his higher-end GPS-disciplined oscillators, displaying very little drift or other aberrations.

We see plenty of clocks using GPS for its accurate time, but we’ve seen projects that attempt to go even further than that, too. Video after the break.

[Thanks to jafinch78 for the tip!]

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Student Rocket Makes It To Space

Where does the Earth’s atmosphere stop and space begin? It is tempting to take the approach Justice Potter Stewart did for pornography when judging a 1964 obscenity case and say “I know it when I see it.” That’s not good enough for scientists, though. The Kármán line is what the World Air Sports Federation (FAI) defines as space. That line is 100 km (62 miles or about 330,000 feet) above sea level. A recent student-built rocket — Traveler IV — claims to be the first entirely student-designed vehicle to pass that line.

The students from the University of Southern California launched the rocket from Spaceport America in New Mexico. The new record is over twice as high as the old record, set by the same team. The rocket reached approximately 340,000, although the margin of error on the measurement is +/- 16,800 feet, so there’s a slight chance they didn’t quite cross the line.

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Go Back In Time With A Laser Cut Wood 3D Printer Kit

About a decade ago, the only way the average hacker was getting their hands on a desktop 3D printer was by building it themselves from a kit. Even then, to keep costs down, many of these kits were made out of laser cut wood. For a few years, wooden printers from companies like MakerBot and PrintrBot were a common sight in particularly well equipped hackerspaces. But as the market expanded and production went up, companies could afford to bend metal and get parts injection molded; the era of the wooden 3D printer was over nearly as soon as it had started.

But [Luke Wallace] thinks there’s still some life left in the idea. For his entry into the 2019 Hackaday Prize, he’s proposing a revival of the classic laser cut 3D printer kit. But this time, things are a bit different. Today, laser cutters are cheap enough that these kits could conceivably be manufactured at your local hackerspace. With a total bill of materials under $100 USD, these kits could be pumped out for less than the cheapest imports, potentially driving adoption in areas where the current options are too expensive or unavailable.

Of course, just a laser cut wood frame wouldn’t be enough to break the fabled $100 barrier. To drive the cost down even farther, [Luke] has redesigned essentially every component so it could be made out of wood. If its not electronic, there’s a good chance its going to be cut out of the same material the frame is made out of. Probably the biggest change is that the traditional belt and pulley system has been replaced with rack and pinion arrangements.

After cutting all the pieces, essentially all you need to provide is the stepper motors, a RAMPS controller, the hotend, and the extruder. He’s even got a design for a laser cut wood extruder if you want to go back to the real olden days and save yourself another few bucks. Or skip the LCD controller and just run it over USB.

But what do the prints look like? [Luke] has posted a few pictures of early test pieces on the project’s Hackaday.io page, and to be honest, they’re pretty rough. But they don’t look entirely unlike the kind of prints you’d get on one of those early printers before you really got it dialed in, so we’re interested in seeing how the results improve with further refinements and calibration. (Editor’s note: Since writing this, he got backlash compensation up and running, and it looks a ton better already. Very impressive for something running on wooden gears!)

Hackaday Prize Mentor Session: Product Engineering With Giovanni Salinas

This year we’ve added something new and exciting to the Hackaday Prize mix. Mentor sessions link up hardware teams with experts from backgrounds useful in moving their product development forward. We’ve assembled a dream team of mentors, and today we’re excited to publish video of the first mentor session which you’ll find embedded below. It’s a great chance to hear about the engineering going into each entry, and to learn from these back and forth conversations that help move the effort forward. We encourage you to sign up for an upcoming session!

Giovanni Salinas, the Product Development Engineer at Supplyframe’s DesignLab, is the mentor for this session. He has a huge breadth of experience in product development, and in today’s installment he’s working with four different product teams.

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Use Movie Tools To Make Your Robot Move Like Movie Robots

Robots of the entertainment industry are given life by character animation, where the goal is to emotionally connect with the audience to tell a story. In comparison, real-world robot movement design focus more on managing physical limitations like sensor accuracy and power management. Tools for robot control are thus more likely to resemble engineering control consoles and not artistic character animation tools. When the goal is to build expressive physical robots, we’ll need tools like ROBiTS project to bridge the two worlds.

As an exhibitor at Maker Faire Bay Area 2019, this group showed off their first demo: a plugin to Autodesk Maya that translate joint movements into digital pulses controlling standard RC servos. Maya can import the same STL files fed to 3D printers, easily creating a digital representation of a robot. Animators skilled in Maya can then use all the tools they are familiar with, working in full context of a robot’s structure in the digital world. This will be a far more productive workflow for animation artists versus manipulating a long flat list of unintuitive slider controls or writing code by hand.

Of course, a virtual world offers some freedoms that are not available in the physical world. Real parts are not allowed to intersect, for one, and then there are other pesky physical limitations like momentum and center of gravity. Forgetting to account for them results in a robot that falls over! One of the follow-up projects on their to-do list is a bridge in the other direction: bringing physical world sensor like an IMU into digital representations in Maya.

We look forward to seeing more results on their YouTube channel. They join the ranks of other animated robots at Maker Faire and a promising addition to the toolbox for robot animation from Disney Research’s kinetic wires to Billy Whiskers who linked servos to Adobe Animate.

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